Sunil Arora, Secretary, Ministry of I & B, spoke to Uday Shankar, Chairman, FICCI’s M & E committee and CEO, Star India at the recently held FICCI-Frames 2016 event in Mumbai and highlighted various issues that beset the M& E sector today.
Speaking about his experience of working in the Media and Entertainment industry since he took over from his predecessor, Arora said, “My own sense of media, especially news, is that news has always been sceptical of the system, which is how it should be, because unless the news part is sceptical of any given system, the news part cannot progress or go ahead in a democracy. They are always forewarning the system as to the pit falls ahead.”
Shankar stated how it was very difficult for stand-alone news channels to flourish as it is a small business and is not watched by people as much as the other genres and if news has poor ability to get subscription then they have to rely on advertising income. The ability to pay to talent therefore becomes challenging. News, if it has to step up its content, needs to pay well and they don’t have the capacity after the incurred costs and the advertising income is barely enough for such news channels to meet operating costs. The second problem pointed out by Shankar was that news is a tactical matter and is becoming increasingly a matter of national outrage without great ideas.
When Arora was asked if he thought the problem of news can be solved without solving the problem of the business model, Arora cited the example of the aviation industry and added “At the end of the day what matters is if the business goes by market principles, the hand holding part is done by the government. Moreover, constant interventions required by the government should be done and ought to be done but at the same time to expect the government to be running any business or anybody is not possible.”
Shankar felt that many people come into the news business in order to make use of the ancillary benefits that news brings along with it and asked if Arora felt the same, to which he replied, “I don’t know what you mean by ancillary benefits but I assume it means that it kind of sub-serves as a camouflage for your business interests. For that I would counter question you as to what are you doing through your industry bodies. Tall tax payers are diversifying into channels and we are all aware of that and it was also discussed in the last parliamentary committee that included iconic media persons too.”.
Arora mentioned that technology changes rapidly but change of technology doesn’t necessarily mean that the content is changing at the same speed. When it comes to good soap opera or a good movie the fundamentals have not changed but the presentation has undergone a change, the tools have undergone a change. As far as technology is concerned, to keep pace with that technology it’s not just the ministry of I&B but also the ministry of IT and others who are keeping a constant track, and everybody is trying to keep pace with the changing times.